By Laura Ings Self
It has become apparent from their appearances in main house shows over the last couple of seasons that the BLT Youth Group hosts some very talented members. Arabian Nights clearly demonstrated that this talent is not limited to one or two members and indeed showcased some of the brilliant talent being nurtured by leader-directors Jessica-Ann Jenner, Richard Stewart and Hazal Han.
Many of the stories of the Arabian Nights are familiar to us, but some, I discovered, are delightfully less so. The young people took us through a range of tales, all with some kind of moral to be acknowledged where the good and generous win out over the mean and greedy. Amongst others, we followed the stories of Ali Baba stealing the treasure from forty bloodthirsty thieves, a poor beggar repeatedly accidentally “killed” by several different people who then each attempted a rather poor cover up, a princess and two princes raised in anonymity but eventually reunited with their royal parents after a lengthy quest (which, in a rather pleasing turn of events, only the princess was able to complete) and the story of a rich man who embarrassed himself with an unbelievably stupendous fart.
The stories were given a brilliant and humorous reworking by Dominic Cooke’s script and the direction by Jessica-Ann Jenner, Richard Stewart and Hazal Han was clever, innovative and fast-paced. Lighting and sound were used to great effect and the costumes were simple but created a sense of unity within the ensemble whilst also allowing the audience to easily identify different characters, whether through the addition of a simple accessory, or by the different colours each actor wore. The make-up, designed by youth group member Lauren Hollywood-Powell, added a lovely dimension and again created a real sense of unity.
The ensemble worked together extremely well to create the different scenes, using their bodies and vocal effects to create caves, doors, rocks and fountains, moving from one to another in seamless, fluid motion. Simple repeated motions were used to symbolise things like marriage, letting the audience know instantly what was happening and the actors frequently reinvented themselves as they stepped into the shoes of yet another different character. It is a true testament to the talent and skill of these young people that these transformations were so effective. Isobel Edwards, Aneira Knight and Joshua Williams-Ward all stood out in this respect, showing excellent characterisation, brilliant comic timing and a clear awareness of their audience in each of their multiple characters. Alfie Gosling was also brilliantly entertaining as the “dead” beggar and shows a lot of potential.
Charlotte Lees gave a great performance as the storytelling Shaharazad, engaging us effortlessly in each tale, whilst Kira O’Sullivan and Victor Poland were great supporting performers as Shaharazad’s sister, Dinarzad, and their father the Vizier. A special mention must go, however, to James Humphrey, who excelled as King Sharhrayar. His stage presence was brilliant and the pace, tone and expression of his speech was distinctive and extremely effective. He is definitely one to watch.